Counseling center to take new direction

New counseling center director strives for community engagement, stigma reduction

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In the first eight weeks of the semester, SRU’s counselors met with 230 students across 400 visits.

Among those counselors is Kenneth Messina, the new clinical director of the counseling center located in Rhodes Hall suite 118.

Messina, Ph.D. and licensed professor counselor (LPC), is an alum of SRU’s master’s in counseling and development (CDEV) program. He earned his undergraduate degree at Waynesburg College while also working at the Community Counseling Center in Mercer County, a role he held for 16 years.

Messina earned his Ph.D. at Duquense University and became a program coordinator in Minnesota before being hired at SRU.

Messina said that he didn’t interact with the counseling center much during his graduate studies at SRU, but is currently serving as an associate professor in the CDEV program to help connect the graduate program with the counseling center.

“At that time, the counseling center wasn’t part of the counseling development program, so ¬†we were definitely really separate,” Messina said. “Now we’re working to integrate that a lot more so that it helps us balance some of the needs.”

The counseling center offers individual and group counseling for SRU students. Currently, there are three counseling groups: stress, grief and loss, and anxiety and depression.

The counseling center also offers referral services for students who may need a level of specialized care or a provider off campus and consultations for groups or offices on campus concerning mental health and crisis response.

“Really, whatever we can do, we do it,” Messina said.

Messina also addressed myths revolving around the counseling center, including wait times and session limits. The counseling center no longer has a session limit, and the center’s average wait time of 14 days is less than the national average of 17 days, according to Messina.

Messina said that about 20-25% of counseling center appointments are cancellations or no shows. Under his leadership, the counseling center had a call list of students to contact if an appointment time opens up, shortening wait times for students.

“Before, those just used to sit there and be empty spaces,” Messina said. “Now, our front desk is calling and saying, ‘Hey, we have an opening tomorrow at 3, can you make it?’ If not, they just go down the list to the farthest down appointment and keep moving up.”

There is also one counselor per hour that is dedicated to walk-in appointments.

“[Our system] is ‘Come in, you’ll be seen,'” Messina said.

Messina is also looking to have the counseling center more involved in campus events. For Messina, he already attended Stride for Pride on National Coming Out Day alongside SRU’s LGBTQ+ students. Information on group counseling is also shared on daily SRU Communication emails.

“The counseling center has stood separate from the university for awhile, and part of what I want to do is see us become more of an integrated part of campus life and doing events and being visible, advertising,” Messina said.

Messina said that the counseling center cannot provide specialized care, such as counseling for an eating disorder, or appointments for weekly or multiple times a week. The limitations of the academic calendar, including winter and spring break, also impacts the continuum of care a student may need.

“That could potentially be really detrimental for their mental health and for their treatment, so we want to make sure they’re with someone who can give them that level of care that they need,” Messina said.

There are four and a half counselors (with some counselors also serving as professors) and four interns who work in the counseling center. As of Oct. 17, the counseling center was in progress of fulfilling another temporary position.

Currently, two faculty members in the counseling center are on maternity leave, so CDEV professors have stepped in as counselors in the meantime.

“It’s been really nice to have that back up and collaboration with our academic programs,” Messina said. “It also helps when we’re doing outreach and awareness things to have more hands there willing to pitch in and lend their expertise to addressing some of the mental health needs on campus.”

The counseling center will also search for two permanent positions: one as a full-time counselor, and the other who will teach for a quarter of the time and serve as a counselor the other time.

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